I missed her desperately. I missed the way we’d go places together, I missed her listening to me in the morning on the way to work, I missed the way she wouldn’t interrupt when I ranted about my day in the evening. I missed the way she didn’t judge me when I swore, a lot, and sometimes cried, when we’d try and find somewhere new and get lost. But mostly, I missed just knowing she was there. I’d be in the lounge, her pottering away in the garage, but I knew she was close by if I needed her. After a small incident at the local car park, my adorable Ellie was spending the week with her friendly panel beaters. Because the panel beaters were just down the road from work, by day five I considered popping in just to see if she was ok/being feed and watered/did she need her favourite chew toy….
They don’t warn you when you pick up your first car from the pound – sorry, car auctioneers – what an adventure it will be. They probably should warn you. They should say that it is a journey in which you will laugh (when people say ‘Just do a U turn, it’s fine’ or ‘How did you manage to get lost coming here?!), in which you will cry (from frustration, from fear, and then after a while, just out of habit) and in which you will have moments of sheer triumph (reverse park into a ridiculously tight spot- win!).
I’ve actually had my full license for over 8 years, but somehow the driving didn’t really begin until I got Ellie. My parents’ car, Max the Nissan Maxima, sees me coming. I’m sure he dreads any time I drive him. He knows I’ll accelerate into corners, and make 47 point turns when most people would be 3 point turns. I suspect Max warned Ellie the first time they met, when I returned home to pick her up five months ago. A few hours later, I drove her north to Auckland and the honking and swearing began.
I split my driving issues into two categories: Directions and Parking. I also struggle with maintaining a reasonable speed on windy/narrow/new roads, but that’s probably a sub-category…or maybe it should go under a third category ‘Driving: General/All/Other’.
It’s understandable that I’d get a little lost in a new city. To begin with, I relied on the GPS on my phone, helpfully navigated by the dulcet tones of Victoria, whose British pronunciation of Maori words was both humorous and unhelpful. Unfortunately, Victoria took to doing wildly inappropriate things like saying ‘Now do a U turn’ when I was belting along at 100km on a four lane motorway, or the time I put in ‘Mount Eden’ (the suburb) and she directed me to Mount Eden prison. She promptly declared ‘You have arrived. Your destination is on the right’ Like hell it is, Victoria! Ellie and I sped away at pace. My confusion at some of Auckland’s road signs meant there was a stage when I would end up at the exact same spot in a neighbouring suburb, no matter where I was trying to go. I called a friend once and said ‘Yes, I know. I’m in Ellerslie again. Yes, the same bloody spot. I know!’ Realising Victoria and I weren’t good together, I purchased an old fashioned map and now study in before undertaking trips. Elle’s interior is littered with bits of paper where I’ve written directions. The stress of driving means that sometimes just planning a journey sends me into a panic. After writing out the directions to visit a friend out West recently, I was bright red (a sign of stress in this redhead) and a little bit clammy…all without turning the key in the ignition.
Once I’ve managed to get to the location, the issue of parking is my next hurdle. Of course, walking is great for one’s constitution I reason, as I often park several blocks away from where most people would, because it’s easier. Obviously, I avoid parallel parking at all costs, and I think my father was quite shocked at how bad my attempts can be, while driving with me over Christmas. Phrases like ‘I didn’t realised you were this poor’ and ‘Dammit Freya, give it a proper go’ may have been bandied about. Tight three point turns are also best avoided, as several friends have discovered. When I actually asked one friend to perform the manoeuvre for me (on a quiet country road…) she worryingly said ‘How do you cope in Auckland?!’ I replied ‘Oh, I’m getting quite good at hiding my disability.’
The third category of my woes -‘Driving: General/All/Other’ is probably best explained by my inability to judge how big Ellie is. I swing between thinking I’m driving a Hummer (‘there is no way I’ll make that turn’) to thinking I’m in a Mini (see the ‘Ellie vs. the Garden Tap’ incident. Who would have thought a Ford Focus would lose in that battle?!) My inability to judge properly makes me a rather cautious driving on winding roads. Recently, I drove my siblings to a surprise birthday party. Driving to the destination (Hobbiton of all places) involved rather a narrow country road…In short, I struggled to do more than 45km and the cars backed up behind us The feeling from my fellow travellers was that the surprise birthday girl may have been in one of the cars behind us, and the fear was that my driving was ruining the ‘surprise’ of turning up to a shire full of guests, rather than arriving when everyone else did due to that damn Ford refusing to go above 45km! It was fine in the end…no surprises ruined…just a few angry glares as I pulled over.
There are of course other tales from the frontline. Tales of lives being feared for, of solid ground being kissed, of handbrakes not being taken off. I’d like to think I’m getting better at driving…or perhaps I’m just getting better at hiding my disability…